Having worked in fish stores for a long time now, I’ve had the benefit of coming in contact with numerous hobbyists on a daily basis. Though their skill levels may vary they all have something in common – at one point or another they need help with something that has gone wrong. Whether it’s human error or a bizarre chain of natural events in the tank, every hobbyist has sought the help of their peers.
More often than not when a problem arises panic sets in and your first impulse is to run to the computer and see if anyone out there can offer aid. Fielding questions on a daily basis my biggest peeve is being asked to solve a problem without being given any information other than a cryptic description of what is thought to be wrong. The best way to help others help you (and advance your own abilities as a reefer) is to bring as much information about the problem as you can. By doing this you end up learning more and more about your particular tank while also giving the rest of us necessary information needed to correct the issue.
The first step is always to test the water with a quality test kit. The parameters you should be testing are Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, PH, Alkalinity, Phosphate, Salinity, and sometimes Temperature. They are all necessary tests all hobbyists should have at their disposal. Saying that your water is “perfect” or “good” isn’t helping anyone. There are no perfect closed systems on the planet and nobody is going to judge you (at least not entirely) for having water that is off.
Next, look through the tank and make sure you really get the whole picture. Sometimes your inhabitants can tell you what’s wrong just by their condition or behavior. If you still can’t tell what’s wrong describe what’s going on taking note of what the corals are doing as well as the fish.
Finally, think hard about what may have changed recently that could have contributed to your problem. Was anything added to the tank recently? Did anything go on in the house that may have had an effect on the tank (ie. Painting, cleaning with chemicals, vent work, etc.)? When was the last time you did a water change?
Armed with all of this information you are now ready to ask for help. Don’t be defensive if you get answers you don’t like but rather be objective and odds are you will find the answers you need.